The Francis Scott Key Memorial Buoy may not aid boaters in a navigational sense.
But the red, white and blue buoy, now firmly anchored near the Francis Scott Key Bridge, does serve to remind boaters of the historical significance of the spot marked by the floating monument—it gently bobs in the approximate spot where Key penned the words to "The Star-Spangled Banner" during the War of 1812.
Traveling across the Key bridge from Dundalk toward Glen Burnie, the buoy is visible over the right side of the span.
Each year, the crew of the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter James Rankin—a buoy tender also known as the Keeper of the Chesapeake Bay—sets the buoy in a ceremony witnessed by guests invited for the occasion.
Placing such a buoy was the idea of the late Ben Womer, the longtime president of the Dundalk-Patapsco Neck Historical Society.
The hard work and dedication of Womer and the society were recognized during the ceremony.
The one-of-a-kind marker was taken to its seasonal home on June 8, where it will remain through November, according to the ship's crew.
Weighing about 3,000 pounds, the marker is anchored to an 8,500-pound block of cement that is attached to the buoy with a chain weighing another 3,500 pounds, crew members said.
The portion visible above water is painted to resemble an American flag, with red and white stripes topped with a field of blue with white stars.
The buoy is cleaned and gets a fresh coat of paint each spring, according to ship commander Lt. Russell Zuckerman.
Zuckerman's pride in his crew and the mission of the Coast Guard was palpable as he talked about setting the buoy, the customs and courtesies of life on a ship and the camaraderie of "Coasties."
When a bell clanged and an announcement proclaimed the arrival of a retired admiral on board the ship, Zuckerman explained that it is tradition to "ring aboard" visiting and high-ranking Coast Guard officials.
"It's a cool thing to do—it reminds us of our heritage," Zuckerman said. "And it's the right thing to do, it shows respect and gives those people their due."
Also on board the ship for the ceremony were Genna White, Tyler Mink and Tim Ertel, National Park Service rangers assigned to Fort McHenry.
Mink and Ertel, dressed in military uniforms representative of the War of 1812, provided historical interpretation throughout the three-hour cruise of the events of the war and Key's role.
After the colorful buoy was placed in its spot, Mink and Ertel joined a line of crew members that saluted the marker while "Taps" and "The Star-Spangled Banner" were played over the ship's loudspeakers.
The rangers each then volleyed a shot to honor the spot where, by the dawn's early light in September 1814, Key could see that, after a night of battle, Baltimore had been successfully defended and "our flag was still there."